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Cryptic: What STO Can Learn From CO

Posted Thu, Nov 18, 2010 by borticus

Grey in STOGrey in COAlthough they have only been in production for just a decade, Cryptic Studios has successfully launched three MMOGs so far in their lifetime, and already has a fourth announced. As a fan and player of their most recently launched title - Star Trek Online - I frequently find myself in a position of examining the game and comparing with Cryptic's other work to date.

Sadly, when I do so, I see STO coming up short in a few areas of design philosophy. Some are core concepts that would alter the entire flow of STO while others are smaller factors that Cryptic already seems to be on the road to correcting. All, however, are lessons that could be learned from their prior MMOG, Champions Online. And while the worlds of warp speed and tight spandex don't seem to dwell in the same reality, the core truth is that they are both MMOGs, both use the same engine and both were created by the same development company. They have more in common than not, and more to learn from one another than may be apparent at first glance.

Stumbled-Upon Content

Throughout the world of CO, you’ll frequently be given very generic instructions on where to find your next batch of missions, and along the way you’re bound to stumble across some pedestrian being assaulted by hooligans, or find a contact tucked in behind a building that you might not have noticed at first glance. To date, STO does not have more than a half-dozen of similarly discoverable objectives, out of a repertoire of missions that numbers in the several-hundreds.

CO contacts

It may seem like a small factor, and one that is frequently taken for granted in traditional MMOGs, but it is a core feature that plays to the “explorer” archetype of gamers. And given that exploration is frequently touted as one of STO's weaker features at this point in time, it stands to reason that giving players an option to discover content by accident could go a long way toward improving the feeling that we are going “where no man has gone before.”

In addition to the exploration side of things, it's possible that having fewer missions handed out by a number of static commanding officers, and instead offered by passing freighters and subspace distress beacons, may offer the world of STO a stronger sense of life and immersion. In fact, I can recall a number of episodes from every series where one captain or another would divert themselves from their primary objective in order to investigate something nearby – a spatial anomaly or passing mystery ship. Each are canon-driven references to content that was not assigned, but was instead found.

Simultaneous Objectives

kapow!CO's mission structure is a much more traditional MMOG model than STO. In CO, you visit a quest hub, load up on missions, then head out into the adventuring areas nearby and start collecting progress in the form of items and kills on multiple objectives at the same time. So while you’re snuffing the neighborhood baddies, you’re also picking up the stolen data they swiped from Dr. Goodguy's lab, as well as ransacking their camps for other prizes - working on at least three different objectives simultaneously.

STO on the other hand, has you focus on a single objective at a time. And while that focus might feel good for some folks (I know there’s a little OCD in every gamer) ultimately it ends up giving you the distinct impression that you are riding on rails. At no point do you feel in control of your destiny, despite being a captain of a starship. Instead, you're told where to go, what to do, and even when the mission goals are inane you are very rarely offered the responsibility of going after more than one at any point in time.

As well as giving us a larger sense that we, as the important high-ranking captains that we are, are actually accomplishing a number of worthy goals, this structure of working toward multiple objectives simultaneously could cut down on another of the primary gripes against STO – excessive zoning. Placing multiple missions in a single area could also allow players to also become attached to the places they visit, instead of each debris-strewn map being no more than another nameless planetary system where we destroyed some romulans/borg/cardassians/tribbles/etc.

Harvestables That Give Buffs

Very small thing, but picking up crafting supplies in CO gives you a buff that lasts like 5-10 minutes. Even better – this buff is not just for you, it also bestows that buff on anyone in the area. The buffs are also different for each different ‘class’ of harvestable (Science, Arms, Magic). So it’s possible, if you’re in a group with at least two buddies of different crafting specialities, to load up on short-term buffs to damage, resistance and regen, while you smash baddies together.

The benefits of incorporating this system into STO are many-fold. First off, it encourages you to pick up anomalies even if you have no intention of using them to craft. Next, it gives each individual crafter the potential of having their crafting skills affect their combat capabilities in a tangible way, even if the boost is a small one. And finally – and I think most importantly – it encourages the active participation of multiple players to work towards locating these anomalies that are, by and large, considered a nuisance by many STO players. By attaching a simple buff to the act of harvesting them, you can quickly change them from a speedbump and distraction, into a desirable and sought-after item.

And while we’re on the subject of crafting...

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